WINSTED — No. 2 seed Northwestern and No. 1 Nonnewaug are headed to Friday’s Berkshire League Girls Tournament championship game at Northwestern High School.
The Highlanders beat No. 3 Thomaston 54-43 in the early game of Tuesday’s league semifinals and the Chiefs hammered Housatonic 49-31 in the late one.
Northwestern corralled its game-one win at the foul line with a 20-for-20 free-throw-shooting night, including 10-for-10 in the last three minutes.
The Highlanders held double-digit leads in the first three quarters — 13-11; 27-19; and 40-30 — behind seniors Jana Sanden (14 points); center Natalie Lederman; and Skylar Dimartino (12 points) — but a sloppy game with lots of missed opportunities on both sides turned ugly in the final period.
Thomaston stepped up its defense. Emma Kahn (game-high 17 points); Emma Sanson; and Sydnee Eggleton (15 points) opened with a 6-0 run, closing in to a 40-36 Highlander edge.
Playing without starting guards Frankie Desanti (flu) and Natalie Munson (hip injury), Northwestern coach Fred Williams was concerned at the outset, despite having a pair of precocious freshmen — Morgan Plitt and Natalie Brodnitzki — as more-than-adequate players off the bench all season.
“You just don’t know how they’re going to react emotionally with the effort,” Williams said. “I just told them to give it all you have.”
Plitt, the leading Northwestern scorer in the Highlanders’ regular-season win over Thomaston last Thursday, drained a pair of 3s in the first three quarters Tuesday.
Now, with 3:05 left in the game and Thomaston stifling her teammates, it was Brodnitzki’s time to shine.
Already contributing eight points in the first three quarters, including a pair of foul shots, Brodnitzki started with a drive to the basket, then, with the Highlander lead inched up to 42-36, she stepped to the line again on her next trip down-court.
“I was calmed down,” said Brodnitzki, who’s played basketball with Plitt for the last eight years. “I knew I had to make those to pull out the win and that’s what I did.”
And she kept doing it.
Joined by Dimartino and Sanden at the foul line in the final minutes, Brodnitzki was 6-for-6 in Northwestern’s final 10-for-10 free-throw run.
Nonnewaug had no trouble with defending champion Housatonic in the second semifinal, despite facing just one of two teams to beat the Chiefs all season (Shepaug is the other).
Led by league high-scorer Sydney Segalla (14 points a game), the Mountaineers eked out a 45-44 win at home in mid-January.
But Nonnewaug, led by league All-Stars Ashely Hennessey and Maddie Woodward, are probably the most balanced team in the league, roaring to a convincing 52-34 win in Woodbury last Tuesday.
It was more of the same for the Chiefs a week later in the semifinals.
Nonnewaug’s two regular-season wins over Northwestern came by a combined nine points — 36-32; and 55-50.
“We’ll just have to execute better if we hope to win,” said Northwestern coach Williams, looking ahead to Friday’s 7 p.m. championship game.